While the Chinese government is spending heavily on incentives for electric vehicle sales, consumer preferences have been leaning in another direction.
Last year, Chinese consumers purchased 189,000 plug-in electric vehicles, the largest number of any country. In a commentary for The Japan Times, Adam Minter, an American writer based in Asia, found it ironic that Chinese consumers purchased 6.2 million SUVs, which were up 52 percent over the previous year. During that same year, EVs made up less than one percent of total new vehicle purchases.
The Chinese government has been spending billions on research grants, subsidies, and new infrastructure, such as charging stations, to encourage consumers to drive EVs. It’s helping to push EV sales upward, but the government has been committed to reducing emissions and making the air more breathable in its fast-growing cities. The goal is to boost the number of EVs in China 10-fold by the end of the decade.
For Minter, safety is a motivating factor behind consumer buying large SUVs. Last year, there were more than 200,000 traffic fatalities and more than 17 million cases of road rage reported. A larger vehicle can feel safer, according to Minter.
SUVs may also be more appealing to Chinese consumers climbing up the ladder of affluence. There’s also the issue of gasoline being cheap, making SUVs more appealing – as has been witnessed in the U.S. during the past year.
Minter thinks the government should consider changing its policies to move sales in the right direction. That would include applying subsidies for non-plugin hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. They may not be as clean as EVs, but they do acclimate car buyers to becoming more eco-friendly. Another measure for the government would be raising fuel prices to a level that makes gas-guzzling vehicles like SUVs less attractive.
China’s EV sales numbers were impressive last year, tripling the previous year and surpassing U.S. sales for that vehicle category. However, some of those numbers were allegedly padded. The government may have pulled back on incentives to “unscrupulous” manufacturers. Tens of thousands of “new energy vehicles” (NEVs) were reported to have “disappeared” as soon as they were newly minted in Chinese production plants.